If you’re coming to London for the 2012 Olympics, here are a few ‘Goodtrippers-style’ ideas to fill in the time between track ‘n’ field for any responsible city tourist…
1. Take a walk in a green space: London is one of the greenest capitals in the world. Seen from above over half of it is green (parkland, allotments, gardens, green roofs and other green spaces) and blue (lakes, rivers, canals and ponds). The Royal Parks (many of which are hosting Olympic and Paralympic events) of Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park are a mix of open space, tree-lined avenues, herbaceous borders and wildlife areas which attract a range of birds, butterflies and insects. But do seek out the green spaces in Zones 2, 3 and beyond – you would struggle to believe you’re in a major capital city when standing in the huge Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park. If you want to explore areas within easy distance of the Olympic site visit Victoria Park in Hackney, Highgate Woods in Haringey or Epping Forest on the London/Essex border for great walks and picnic areas away from the well-trodden tourist path.
2. Visit a food market: London may not be able to rival the streets of SE Asia for street food – but it’s getting close! The city is teeming with food markets, farmers markets, food carts and pop-ups supplying some of the best in organic, sustainable, local produce that you can purchase direct from independent producers. Bahn mi or jerk chicken? Seafood or pie ‘n’ mash? BBQ or veggie? The world is already here in London’s food markets… Borough Market has been going in some form or another for 1,000 years! It’s world-class for seasonal, organic and local produce and is open every day during the Olympics and Paralympics (visit the website for more details). Try Eat.St near Kings Cross station (open Mon-Fri) or catch some of the Eat.St traders on SW7’s Exhibition Road for a special Olympic showing 28 July – 5 August. If you’re venturing out of Zone 1 (and we recommend you do!), visit the Alexandra Palace Farmers’ Market (Sundays 10am – 3pm) for fresh meats, seafood, fruit and veg plus speciality cheeses, sauces, cakes, bread and street food. Or for one of our favourites, read our post on the Real Food Market on London’s Southbank.
3. Always take an umbrella with you. Even if it’s sunny when you leave your hotel…
4. Buy a copy of the the Big Issue: Since hitting the streets in 1991, the Big Issue magazine has been helping some of society’s most excluded people by giving the homeless a chance to take control of their lives and earn a legitimate income. So if you see a Big Issue seller (they are recognisable by their official ID badges) take a moment to stop, smile, chat and buy a copy – it’s only £2 (and that won’t even get you a coffee in most of London…)
5. Choose eco accommodation: A rather optimistic entry (if you haven’t sorted your accommodation yet…good luck!) but if you do still have a choice, make it an eco-friendly one. The Cavendish is one of London’s leading eco hotels and has been awarded the Green Tourism for London Gold Award amongst others; The Lancaster is committed to supporting sustainability and local charities (and the urban bee population with their Rooftop Honey Farm!); or for something extremely cool and quirky The Zetter Hotel and Townhouse in Clerkenwell is one of the best boutique hotels around, let alone in the eco sphere – they source their own water from an internal borehole, use enviro-friendly paint throughout, and have special ‘occupancy detection’ technology which means little energy is used in vacant rooms.
6. Please stand on the right (walk on the left) when on the tube escalator (you will impress the locals)
7. Step away from the mainstream supermarket: At some point on your holiday you’ll need to stock up on supplies. Steer yourself away from the high street chains and mainstream supermarkets and spend your money more smartly. Buy your goodies from small independent stores or, if you’re in the Holborn area, The People’s Supermarket. Opened in 2010, this social enterprise was inspired by a similar scheme in New York with the community becoming members of the business by buying shares and volunteering some hours per month to working in the store. You don’t have to be a member to browse and buy from the household goods, bakery and florist on offer. The business has strong eco credentials and is committed to environmental and sustainable best practice. Open everyday 8am – 10pm (except Sun 10am – 9pm) – find them at 72-78 Lamb’s Conduit St, Holborn, London WC1N 3LP.
8. Have a traditional British pint: If you’re an overseas visitor you’ll no doubt be seeking out those proper ‘English experiences’ and having a pint in a pub fits the bill perfectly (and if you’re a Brit visiting London you’ll need to know the best pubs anyway!). The Duke of Cambridge in Islington, north London, is the UK’s first and only pub to be certified by organic body the Soil Association. Their ethical business ideals remain strong today and the delicious menu is full of organic, local (80% sourced within the Home Counties) and seasonal ingredients. They also recycle and reuse wherever possible, and their electricity is wind and solar generated. Find them at 30 St Peter’s Street, Islington, London N1. Read our review of The Duke of Cambridge here.
9. Volunteer your time: Take a break from sightseeing and shopping and volunteer a day of your holiday to helping a local charity. Like many big cities, London has its fair share of challenges – those problems won’t be solved in a day but some charities and projects will welcome an extra pair of hands if you’ve just a few hours or day or two to spare. You could be planting trees and maintaining wildflower meadows; providing an elderly person with some conversation and company; serving food in a homeless shelter; or helping out at a youth or community centre. It could be a real eye-opener and will certainly reveal another side of the city far from the guidebook itineries. Look for opportunities via volunteering directories Time Bank, Do-It or Greater London Volunteering.